For the past few months, there has been a tugging from the inside to initiate something that I never thought of or believed would gather much interest.
But the tugging persisted. I realized the tugging was God speaking to me.
So, I researched, met with people in the West Georgia area, and we finally submitted the documents necessary to establish a 501(c)(3) non-profit called the West Georgia Autism Foundation.
What happened next is nothing short of a miracle.
We were flooded with emails, messages, resources, donors, and offers to help in numerous ways. The response was so overwhelming, it took us more than a week to return all the messages. These messages came from people and families representing all races, professions, jobs, political affiliation, and economic position. These were people I have known for years, people I have never met, grant writers, large donors, small donors, therapists, teachers, and many others.
Before I continue, I want to thank the teachers, therapists, schools, and others who are already committed to working with these special children. I have seen their selfless work myself. A price cannot be placed on your sacrifice.
During the research phase, we were surprised to learn:
An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the U.S.;
Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.;
Autism costs the nation over $238 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in the next decade;
While there is no medical detection or known cure for autism, thousands of children have shown significant improvement resulting from early diagnosis and treatment;
In 2011, the National Institutes of Health received $30.5 billion. Only $169 million went directly to autism and related conditions research. This represents 0.6 percent of the 2011 NIH funding. I am unaware of more recent data.
Fortunately, Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly have strongly supported legislation and passed laws that help autistic families in our state.
While statistics are helpful, it’s the personal experience that shows the need. We quickly learned that a local foundation was needed. Not only do we have a much higher number of autistic children in West Georgia than we knew, but many come from families that currently have very little financial resources. These families do not have the money to obtain critical treatment and therapy like counseling, doctors, horse therapy, and others.
Some cannot even afford to put gas into their vehicles to go to autism-related events.
This is unacceptable, and now is the time to act.
The foundation will have three primary functions; (1) raising money to financially support families in need, (2) promoting awareness with the help of “Friends of WGAF,” a group of nationally known men and women who are willing to publicize the foundation, and (3) promoting acceptance through education.
If you have an interest in joining or helping the foundation in any way, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can add you to the email group and/or join us at the organizational meeting on July 18 at 10 a.m. at 310 Tanner St. in Carrollton.
With God’s direction, the foundation will have an impact on the entire West Georgia community.
(Jason Swindle is a criminal-defense attorney and college professor in Carrollton.)